GREENSBORO, N.C. – With the season hanging in the balance, Durand Scott brought some New York playground to Greensboro Coliseum.
His Miami Hurricanes were trailing Virginia Tech 61-59 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with less than three minutes to play, and the next stop was the offseason unless something changed in a hurry. That’s when freshman Scott went to the rack like a Big Apple guard should.
“I just tightened my fist,” Scott said. “… I’m a great driver. I know how to get to the basket. There’s nobody in this league who can stop me when I’m determined.”
At that crucial moment Friday, Scott was determined. And unstoppable.
He drove left, drew contact and scored while being sprawled to the deck, then made the free throw for a 62-61 lead. Next possession, he charged left into the paint again and made an off-balance shot off glass. And on the possession after that, Scott switched direction, went right and drew a foul. His two free throws with 1:53 left gave Miami the lead for good.
That’s seven huge points in a minute’s time. Scott added the clinching free throws with 17.5 seconds to play for a 70-65 upset – pushing the last-place team in the league into the semifinals. According to ACC research guru Rob Daniels, only 28 teams out of the 482 seeded 10th or worse have made a major-conference tournament semifinal since 1994.
Miami’s place in the ACC semis was courtesy of the suddenly Great Scott. He finished with a team-high 17 points and six rebounds, a huge game for a skinny freshman with a single-digit season scoring average.
“Give Scott credit,” said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg. “He made two crazy plays, and then we bailed him out with the foul. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s physical.”
And he’s quite an addition for the Canes. Scott was a high-profile recruit, but he was reticent to assert himself upon arrival in Coral Gables.
“I was pretty much afraid to take the game over because there are people ahead of me,” he said. “I want everybody to be happy. I hate for people not to be happy on the court.”
But it’s worse when your coach is unhappy with your play. Frank Haith asked Scott a few weeks ago whether he was hitting the freshman wall, and suggested that he step up his assertiveness.
The result: Scott amped up his scoring, averaging 16 points per game in Miami’s final six regular-season games. He was only 2-for-10 Thursday in the Canes’ opening-round upset of Wake Forest, but he contributed five rebounds and four assists.
And then he took over against Virginia Tech, when Miami’s tournament life was in the balance. Now the handful of Hurricanes fans who made this trip have another day to spend in Greensboro as the Canes take on Duke Saturday in the semifinals.
“The fans here, we appreciate them,” Scott said.
After Friday, the feeling is absolutely mutual.